Can We Change … for the Better?

I’ve been browsing the full Climate Change Action Plan released by the Ontario government. I see a lot of encouraging policy and a fair share of more vague intentions. But I can foresee the plan hitting some speed bumps along the way too.

The Abandel development proposal that Council just approved is a good example. It is a classic 1950’s strip plaza design with lots of vehicle parking and two drive through lanes. We are being graced with this architectural embarrassment, which does not conform with Innisfil’s Official Plan, because the developer insisted on having the project ‘grandfathered’ under old rules with the assistance of the OMB.

Before it is even constructed it is a fossil, totally incompatible with modern urban planning policy. We’ll be stuck with it for a generation. How many other “grandfather” projects are lingering out there in Ontario? This is a huge obstacle when architects and developers obstinately insist on designing for the 1950s instead of 2015. The government needs to outlaw all ‘grandfathering’ of development proposals. Regular recertification of architects, or early retirement for some of them, might be necessary too.

Let’s look at how out-of-step some current development proposals, like Abendel’s, are when compared to Climate Change Policy:

  • “The government intends to update the Building Code with long-term energy efficiency targets for new net zero carbon emission small buildings that will come into effect by 2030 at the latest, and consult on initial changes that will be effective by 2020.”
  • “Minimum parking requirements would be eliminated over the next five years for municipal zoning bylaws, especially in transit corridors and other high-density, highly walkable communities… Instead, bylaws will encourage bike lanes, larger sidewalks, and enhanced tree canopies.”
  • “The government intends to consult and propose amendments to the Planning Act to make climate change mitigation and adaptation mandatory in municipal official plans.”
  • “Municipalities would be able to require installation of electric vehicle charging stations in surface parking areas.”
  • “Ontario intends to establish a green bank to deploy and finance readily available low-carbon energy technologies to reduce carbon pollution from Ontario buildings.”

In theory, existing strip plazas in Innisfil like Trinity Crossing, Crossroads Plaza, and Innisfil Town Centre are ideal sites for rooftop solar or other renewable energy. There are no nearby buildings, trees or other obstructions. In practice this doesn’t happen because the roof belongs to a landlord with no interest in it, while the benefit would accrue to the tenants below who don’t have legal access to the roof or the means to install renewable energy. I don’t see how a ‘green bank’ is going to solve this problem. The only way I can see to break this impasse is to require landlords with buildings above a certain size to offer all tenants net metering of electricity. This would put the onus firmly on the building owners.

These are some of my initial thoughts as the climate change plan moves forward. I’m sure I will have more to say on the topic.

Energy, Waste and Water

So much energy and time has gone into devising a municipal servicing strategy for the designated Innisfil Heights industrial site that I thought it might be useful to look at alternative approaches or ideas that might be out there.

We tend to look at this as a linear process, spending money on infrastructure upfront and struggling with ‘cost recovery’ of this capital investment in the aftermath. The puzzle is in trying to convince a target audience – citizens, corporations and financiers – that the enterprise is sound. Consequently, there has also been a lot of hand-wringing about exactly what kind of industries might populate out future industrial lands. But we should be aware that past experience is a poor indicator of the future.

Lately, there has been a growing focus on closed loop systems that recycle inputs into useable outputs. In this context, the treatment of water is not ‘waste water’ but more like ‘wasted water’:

“… the EPA is urging wastewater treatment facilities, which treat human and animal waste, to be viewed as Renewable Resource Recovery Facilities that produce clean water, recover energy and generate nutrients.” (Water World, The Rise of Resource Recovery)

A lot of research has been going on that focuses more on refining waste water into valuable and marketable components: phosphorous compounds for agricultural fertilizers, minerals and precious metals, compost, and potable water.

“The traditional mentality has always been that wastewater is a hazardous waste that we need to mitigate. But we view it as an ore. If you were at an iron mine you’re not getting pure iron, you’re getting iron ore and you need to take out the impurities before you have something valuable that you can sell. And wastewater is the same – it’s got water, it’s got energy, nutrients and material. You can produce high-end materials from it; you just have to take out the impurities.”

“Specifically you have nitrogen and phosphorus, which are fertilizers. Production of nitrogen fertilizer actually consumes a tremendous amount of energy and produces a lot of greenhouse gas emissions globally. But in wastewater we have a free supply of nitrogen and phosphorus that we could be recovering in a safe way.
(Wastewater Creates Energy, Products and More, quoting Sebastien Tilmans, Codiga Resource Recovery Centre, Stanford University, April 2016)  Continue reading

What a Year!

What a year that passed, and what a year to come! This blog set another new high mark for readership in 2015 with about 7,600 ‘views’ and 3, 500 visitors, mostly in Canada and the US but also from more than 40 other countries. (By accident or chance? I don’t know. If only they’d leave a comment.)

Canadians are facing many difficult challenges but are also making considerable strides since I began writing about local “sustainability” in 2011. Back then, I wrote about the Transition movement developing an “energy descent plan”. In 2015, we read about Vancouver voting to become petroleum-free by 2050. Frankfurt, Copenhagen, Munich, Seattle, Sydney and Lima have made the same commitment. We seem to have reached a point where we realize that our local efforts are just part of a global matrix trying to “sustain” our planet.

I hope to spend more time this year writing about innovative ideas, projects and emerging technologies. Here are some stories that I consider milestones, in a way:  Continue reading

Turning the Tables with Smart Meters

My last article described the benefits of smart meters, which primarily provided savings to electric power generators and distributors. The objective of reducing costs to consumers through time-of-use conservation has not been realized. About half of the electric bill consists of a “global adjustment” for a constantly fluctuating market price of electricity. Yet the two-way metering by smart meters will allow consumers to eventually turn the tables.

As the centralized model of energy generation and distribution begins to disintegrate, consumers will have an opportunity to achieve real savings through the use of renewable technologies. Households will find it easier to install wind and/or solar arrays as costs drop. More people will generate some or all of their electricity requirements themselves. With net metering, surplus power can be fed back to the grid and the smart meter then reduces electric charges proportionately to as low as zero. Continue reading

Rooftop Wind Power Has Finally Arrived


Residential Ridgeblade installation


Commercial Ridgeblade installation

A compact, quiet and efficient roof-top wind energy system is now in commercial launch phase. I first wrote about this prize-winning UK based company, Ridgeblade, in 2011 when the technology was still under development. The company has designed two units, one for commercial use and one for residential use. Both systems are intended to be retrofitted into the existing built environment. Performance specifications for both are now posted on their website and the company is looking for international distributors. (Update: Libra Energy has been named exclusive distributor for France, Germany, Holland, Belgium & Luxembourg)

This has the potential to change the way many of us view renewable energy, especially for those of us living around Lake Simcoe. Wind power is no longer the realm of faceless corporations and giant “wind farms”. This innovation negates the existing health, cost and esthetic objections about giant turbines. This technology combines energy producer and energy consumer in the same location. I can hardly wait to set my electric meter spinning backwards! The company claims the technology is affordable but no pricing information is available yet.

Speaking Up for Art

My quiet summer afternoons were interrupted by the series of angry letters in the local papers complaining about the decision to install a mobile sculpture as part of the new Innisfil Hydro building. I was hoping to see more than one published letter in support of art and this sculpture. When public meetings were held to discuss the design of the expanded Lakeshore library, now under construction, one of my suggestions was to make room in front of the building for a dramatic sculpture. New venue, same idea, so I guess I will have to take up the cause.

My first experiment was to consult the Oracle of Google. I typed in “public art waste of money” – about 40 million results. Then I typed, “public art benefit to community” – about 168 million results. Hmmm, 4 to 1 for the latter.

It seems that art is most often seen as a waste of money. That’s the impression from local letter writers: Are Hydro Art Supporters Living in a Bubble?, Hands Off Our Wallets, and Stop Wasting Money on Feel Good Projects. Lets have a look at what the letter writers have to say: Continue reading